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September 4, 2010

Hancock-Shorter-Ikeda Conversations on Jazz Launched in Japanese

Hong Kong Book Fair 2010

Mr. Ikeda (foreground, left) greets jazz greats Wayne Shorter (foreground, center) and Herbie Hancock (foreground, right) in Hachioji, Tokyo, October 2006

A serialized conversation among Grammy Award-winning jazz musicians Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Daisaku Ikeda has been launched in the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai's organizational newspaper. The series, Tamashii no ningen sanka--jazu to jinsei to Buppo wo kataru (tentative translation: Ode to the Human Spirit--A Dialogue on Jazz, Life and Buddhism), explores the roots of jazz, its role in the advancement of culture and its resonance with Buddhist principles.

An avid follower of classical music, Mr. Ikeda opens the discourse by stating, "I intend to devote myself to the study of jazz with all the vigor and enthusiasm of a young man."

He cites Dr. Jim Garrison, the former president of the John Dewey Society, for rekindling his interest in jazz. Mr. Ikeda explains that Dr. Garrison believes the four greatest spiritual contributions of the United States to have been the literary works by Ralph Waldo Emerson during the American Renaissance; John Dewey's theories on education; Martin Luther King Jr. and his role in the civil rights movement; and jazz, which took root and flowered "from the great earth of ordinary people."

Mr. Shorter, winner of nine Grammies as a saxophonist and composer, describes jazz as a medium through which only the purest essence of one's life can come together and fuse with another, an experience that is shorn of every pretention, act of chicanery or hidden agenda. He maintains that jazz has the capacity to break through the superficial constraints imposed by dogma or decree, and believes it is synonymous with dialogue and the creative process.

Mr. Hancock, a 12-time Grammy winner who performed with Mr. Shorter in jazz giant Miles Davis's "second great quintet" in the early-1960s, acknowledges the musical genre's African-American roots but notes that it has since evolved into a global art form. He believes the source from which jazz springs exists in every person, a fount of strength enabling one to transform even the harshest circumstance into positive value. He states that jazz is such a powerful medium of expression that no political authority, no matter how oppressive, could hope to suppress it.

Mr. Ikeda praises the two musicians for excelling not only as artists, but as concerned citizens striving to advance the cause of peace. He recalls that he first encountered the genre after the war at the age of 17. Jazz--including use of the term itself--had been banned by the militarist regime in wartime Japan, yet shortly after the war ended in Japanese defeat, radio stations had begun airing jazz pieces as if to herald the advent of a new era.

"Nothing is mightier than the power of culture," he says. "Human beings become truly human through culture . . . Culture, as with life, entails struggle. It is the struggle for limitless betterment and the creation of value. And it cannot be won without courage."

Messrs. Hancock and Shorter are both members of SGI-USA and serve as founding Co-presidents of the International Committee of Artists for Peace based in Los Angeles, USA.

[Adapted from articles in the August 16 and September 4, 2010, issues of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan]